Research Horizons is the University of Cambridge’s research magazine. 

Foreword from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research: 

Welcome to the 35th issue of Research Horizons, in which we focus on artificial intelligence (AI). 

Almost everywhere I turn, I see the transformative potential of AI being promoted, so it is very timely that it is a focus of this issue of Research Horizons. 

Some of the researchers featured in this issue are among AI experts worldwide who have signed an open letter affirming the benefits of the technology and urging caution in its development. In essence, they said: “AI systems must do what we want them to do.” 

Enabling enormous promise whilst stewarding progress is a complex balance. It requires engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians to build systems that learn from data, and that think both like humans and unlike humans; it requires experts in fields as different as climate science and criminology to develop innovative uses of these machines that learn; and it requires researchers to pose new questions about safety, trust, transparency, security and privacy in an algorithm-rich world. 

Cambridge has strengths in machine learning, robotics and applications of AI technologies. Not only is research aimed at maximising the impact of AI, it is also aimed at understanding how we can ensure that the technology benefits humanity. This has been helped by two new research institutes – the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk – as well as being a founding partner in The Alan Turing Institute. 

These developments are indeed timely. In November 2017, the UK government’s Industrial Strategy set out four Grand Challenges, one of which was to put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution. In this issue, we look at some of the areas in which Cambridge AI researchers are making a significant impact, as well as consider some of the benefits for academics and industry of being within the ‘Cambridge Cluster’. 

Elsewhere in this varied edition of Research Horizons, we cover a major boost for cystic fibrosis research, an epic analysis of epic poetry and Cambridge’s first dedicated tree-ring laboratory.  

We hope you enjoy these and other articles in this issue.  

Professor Chris Abell 

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research 

Image credit: Samuel Zeller